Interrogating Concepts of Caribbean Diaspora


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Dr. Suzanne Scafe (Southern World Arts News, SWAN) reviews the new Special Issue of African and Black Diaspora entitled “African-Caribbean Women Interrogating Diaspora/Post-diaspora” (2020).

The articles in this issue originated as papers presented at a conference held at London South Bank University in July 2018, representing the work of a network of scholars from the UK, Canada and the Caribbean, who had been focusing on Caribbean women’s mobility, and, in particular, issues of diaspora, globalization and transnationalism.

The conference was attended by more than 70 scholars, students, activists and artists, and was accompanied by a show of life-size sculptures and paintings by Guyanese-British artist Desrie Thomson-George. This artwork tells the story of Thomson-George’s alter ego Jilo, and her struggles and journey to survival. The work was used to illustrate the Research Network’s first publication, a collection of essays in the open access journal, The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies.

As conference co-organizers, Dr. Leith Dunn and I were also pleased to welcome British novelist Diana Evans, whose third novel Ordinary People (2018), shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Literature, was launched at the conference, and prize-winning short-story writer, novelist and journalist Alecia McKenzie, who read a story from her ground-breaking collection Satellite City (1992) as well as a recently written poem.

The second edition of the award-winning Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain (2018), by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe, was also launched at the conference

The articles in Africa and Black Diaspora, an international journal, address the complexity of the diasporic experience for Caribbean women, the fluidity of the migration process and the importance of the material and affective links forged by individuals on either side of the migration divide.

Pat Noxolo’s article, for instance, uses the iconic poem by Jamaican writer Lorna Goodison, “I am becoming my mother”, as well as a series of family photographs, to frame the author’s own reflections on the relationship with her mother and her mother’s own process of migration and settlement in Birmingham during the 1960s. In the process of this analysis, Noxolo examines what concepts of diaspora or post-diaspora mean to communities and to the experiences of individuals and their families.

Focusing on her experiences as a teacher and black feminist activist in the UK from the 1960s to the 1990s, Beverly Bryan also uses a series of personal photographs to trace the physical, political and psychological effects of the journey from migrant to a settler.

Other articles explore the meaning of home: Gabriella Beckles-Raymond argues that concepts of home are central to African-Caribbean women’s understanding of diaspora. Home is used by the author as a theoretical and ethical framework, and she traces the changes in the meaning of home, from a concept that implies a state of dependency to an interdependent state, characterized by the loving and “liberatory”.

Several contributions focus on literature and visual arts, and include analyses of the work of Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Ndiche, and Caribbean-diasporic visual artists Nicole Awai, Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Andrea Chung, Elizabeth Colomba and Jeannette Ehlers.

In a reflection of the conference’s diverse participants and presentations, this Special Issue includes the work of two poets, Jenny Mitchell, and Paris-based McKenzie, whose novel Sweetheart was the 2012 Caribbean Regional winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize. The poetry of these writers reflects the issue’s themes of migration, diaspora, home, history and belonging.


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